Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Choke by Chuck Palahniuk (2001)

Well, I'm testing my limits of tolerance. This one found my limit and I just chose to not keep listening to it. Maybe I'm getting too old, maybe it is another generation's irreverence I can't take, maybe it was just too black for me, but I realized I had nothing to gain by forcing myself to read this to the end. When the character's motivating phrase is "What would Jesus NOT do" it can lead to some pretty lousy life choices. I didn't care what happened to the character - I doubt he got redeemed, so let him continue his fictitious life story without my being witness to it.

The narrator of the story is a med school drop-out who earns a living working at a historical theme park and to earn extra cash for his mother's upkeep in a home (OK, I guess that is a bit redeeming) he pretends to choke in restaurants, lets people save him, and then continues correspondence with them. Since they feel responsible for him after saving his life, they send him money. He has a loser of a friend who collects rocks. I don't know why that particular obsession really got to me. It was basically harmless, could be funny, but it drove me nuts to hear about all the parts of the house that were taken over by rocks. Plus these two are sex addicts. I don't mind occasional explicit sexual content in books, but this was just not fun or appealing, just kind of gross.

I turned to my favorite book review source - Amazon (blasphemy) and learned that this is just the way Paluhniuk writes. Publisher's Weekly commented that the audio book was read by the author himself in an off beat way, appropriate to the book. But the best reviews were from average readers. One warned to stay away from this book if you are at all squeamish. Another just said it must be a guy book, as she didn't like it. Maybe that's it. I saw this book at some friend's vacation condo. Maybe it was the guy reading it. Or maybe I wouldn't enjoy reading a drugs and sex book from my era anymore either.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Wickett's Remedy by Myla Goldberg (2005)

This is by the author of Bee Season, an unusual book, as is this one. The setting is Boston early 20th century, centering around the flu epidemic of 1918, where more people lost their lives than in all the wars of the century. The main story line follows working class Lydia, who works in an apartment store, then marries an intellectual man Wickett, they invent Wickett's Remedy, and she ends up working on Gallops Island, helping with research on the epidemic. Her story is intertwined with various others, including Quentin Driscoll, the owner of QD Soda company. Since I was listening to the book instead of reading it, in the beginning it was disconcerting to hear different voices and lead-ins with varied sound effects. I was forced to go look at the copy in our library, so I could see the printed version. Goldberg uses alternate ways to tell the story or give various sides to the story:
1. The whole book is full of side notes - comments printed in the outside margin of the book - like notes one would write when studying a text book. These side notes are most often comments from a person mentioned in the main story. Someone's thoughts at the time, remembering Lydia or an incident a different way. Sometimes the person has already passed away, but comments on how it "really was" for them.
2. Actual articles from the newspapers of the times, mostly strange human interest stories or letters to the editor about public spitting, lack of phone service, etc., all giving a flavor of the crisis. (These were accompanied by obnoxious newsroom sounds.)
3. Articles from the QDispatch, a fictional newsletter of the QD Soda company, that give the story of Quentin Driscoll and his soda empire. (These were accompanied by a cheery jingoistic kind of music and read by a high pitched female voice.)
4. Letters (accompanied by typing sounds) from various characters, sometimes you don't know who is writing, but you figure it out in the end.

Goldberg ties everything together in the end, but not necessarily in a satisfying way. Then again, the world doesn't always work out the way we would like, and this one definitely did not, but it was still an intriging book. It appeals to me as historical fiction with wonderful insights into the life of those times (she had done her research), differences in classes, men going of to the war in Europe, medicine at that time, etc. Goldberg gets points from me for thanking reference librarians for helping her with the research.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Saffron Kitchen by Yasmin Crowther (2006)

Wonderful book!

The curious incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon (2003)

I read this a few years ago, after I purchased it in London, and this year it has been chosen as the local community reading book. I wanted to reread it after reading Haddon's A Spot of Bother. Plus my son had started reading this, but hadn't finished it - so it was a good thing to have on our trip.

Again, this was an amazing trip into Christopher's mind, a young bright mind that doesn't work like most. He is austistic and hates to be touched, has a hard time interacting with people, but once he sets his mind on going to London, he is incredible brave. At time funny, at times sad, this book just makes me feel good and hopeful for humanity.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Painted House by John Grisham (2001)

I've never read anything by Grisham, but this was given to me by Sniedze, because it was about migrant workers and cotton growers in the South. I liked it, especially since it was written from the view point of seven year old Luke Chandler. His family owns a cotton farm, and they have to hire hill people and Mexicans to help pick the cotton crop in the couple months. The story is rich with details of farm life, small town life, the different groups, listening to baseball games, etc. I can't even image what it would be like to spend long hot days out in the fields picking cotton, where every hand is important, even the work of a seven year old. The "painted house" comes from one of the hill boys, who's health prevents him from working out in the field, but he starts painting Luke's house. When it seems everything is falling apart, painting the house becomes something important and hopeful.

I finished reading this book while on vacation on Sanibel Island in Florida, and the day I finished it, I took a walk and met a local woman who showed me her garden and gave me a pod and ball of wild cotton. Strange...

Irish Dreams by Nora Roberts (2007)

I was really disappointed in these two from Roberts, but when I looked more closely, they were written for Sihouette Books, so there must be some formula that the writers have to follow. These virginal stories with minimal setting or character development or realistic explanation of motivation are a bit hard to take. The women are still strong, but not great Nora Roberts.

Irish Rebel (2000)
Brian Donnelly comes over from Ireland to manage the horses for a wealthy horesefarm. He falls for the owner's daughter Keeley Grant, who he originally thinks is an ice princess. Of course she is not... There was another horse farm story by Roberts I read a while ago. The horse farm was described in detail, and the two characters were OK, but their motivations were a bit sketchy for me.
Sullivan's Woman (1984)
This was the least fun - Cassidy St. John a buddingwriter with Irish blood loses her job and takes on modeling for artist Colin Sullivan, from Ireland. I'm sorry, I just didn't get this staring at each other and falling totally in love with each other, with the usual - Oh I'm sure he doesn't care for me, but then he really does. Set in the wonderful San Francisco - so much more could be done with that, but oh well.

Consent to Kill by Vince Flynn (2005)

This audio book sat in my car for the longest time, so I had no idea why I had chosen it. I haven't read any spy thrillers in a long time, I liked them back in high school, but this must have been suggested by Allison at Audiobooks, since it was about our post 9-11 "war on terror." I have to admit I quite enjoyed it, even if most of it centered on CIA's black operations, where they take the law into their own hands, circumventing diplomacy and world court procedures. The targets seem logical for elimination in the current atmosphere, but I know the CIA has made numerous dubious choices in the past, so I had to set aside this critical thinking to enjoy the read.

We get the story from various points of view, so it isn't a simple bad-guy, good guy set-up. Our "good guy" is Mitch Rapp, a CIA operative well know as a skilled assasin, who easily slips accross borders, and does his job without collateral damage. Back home he dearly loves his wife, a White House correspondant for TV. The CIA director, a woman, supports him, as does the president, since he has averted major terrorist attacks. The newly appointed head of what we know as Homeland Security gets in the way, and is one of the most negative characters, though we have heard the arguments in real life.

The we see the different layers of "bad guys." First of all there is the Saudi who hires an ex-East German spy to orchestrate the elimination of Rapp. This guy then hires a male-female couple of very skilled assasins to do the job. We get everyone's life story and how they fell into this line of business. For the couple this will be their last job before they retire, and settle down to raise a family. Maybe not. One of the things I liked was the comparison of the couples - each wants the best for their families, and the women add an element of humanity and vulnerability to our (anti)heroes.

This reminded me of the changes in our post 9-11 world, including our relation to the Saudis. I am not sure what the role of the CIA is or should be, but as I said, I just had to put all the philosphizing aside and enjoy the story.